03MAY2018 – Quote of the Day

It’s so short (and in the public domain!) how could I abridge this magnificent malignancy?

THE TELL-TALE HEART by Edgar Allan Poe
TRUE!--nervous--very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but
why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses--not
destroyed--not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I
heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things
in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily--how
calmly I can tell you the whole story.

It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain; but once
conceived, it haunted me day and night. Object there was none. Passion
there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had
never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his
eye! yes, it was this! He had the eye of a vulture--a pale blue eye,
with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and
so by degrees--very gradually--I made up my mind to take the life of the
old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.

Now this is the point. You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing. But you
should have seen me. You should have seen how wisely I proceeded--with
what caution--with what foresight--with what dissimulation I went to
work! I was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week
before I killed him. And every night, about midnight, I turned the latch
of his door and opened it--oh so gently! And then, when I had made an
opening sufficient for my head, I put in a dark lantern, all closed,
closed, that no light shone out, and then I thrust in my head. Oh,
you would have laughed to see how cunningly I thrust it in! I moved it
slowly--very, very slowly, so that I might not disturb the old man’s
sleep. It took me an hour to place my whole head within the opening so
far that I could see him as he lay upon his bed. Ha! would a madman have
been so wise as this? And then, when my head was well in the room, I
undid the lantern cautiously--oh, so cautiously--cautiously (for the
hinges creaked)--I undid it just so much that a single thin ray fell
upon the vulture eye. And this I did for seven long nights--every night
just at midnight--but I found the eye always closed; and so it was
impossible to do the work; for it was not the old man who vexed me, but
his Evil Eye. And every morning, when the day broke, I went boldly into
the chamber, and spoke courageously to him, calling him by name in a
hearty tone, and inquiring how he has passed the night. So you see he
would have been a very profound old man, indeed, to suspect that every
night, just at twelve, I looked in upon him while he slept.

Upon the eighth night I was more than usually cautious in opening the
door. A watch’s minute hand moves more quickly than did mine. Never
before that night had I felt the extent of my own powers--of my
sagacity. I could scarcely contain my feelings of triumph. To think
that there I was, opening the door, little by little, and he not even to
dream of my secret deeds or thoughts. I fairly chuckled at the idea; and
perhaps he heard me; for he moved on the bed suddenly, as if startled.
Now you may think that I drew back--but no. His room was as black as
pitch with the thick darkness, (for the shutters were close fastened,
through fear of robbers,) and so I knew that he could not see the
opening of the door, and I kept pushing it on steadily, steadily.

I had my head in, and was about to open the lantern, when my thumb
slipped upon the tin fastening, and the old man sprang up in bed, crying
out--“Who’s there?”

I kept quite still and said nothing. For a whole hour I did not move a
muscle, and in the meantime I did not hear him lie down. He was still
sitting up in the bed listening;--just as I have done, night after
night, hearkening to the death watches in the wall.

Presently I heard a slight groan, and I knew it was the groan of mortal
terror. It was not a groan of pain or of grief--oh, no!--it was the low
stifled sound that arises from the bottom of the soul when overcharged
with awe. I knew the sound well. Many a night, just at midnight, when
all the world slept, it has welled up from my own bosom, deepening, with
its dreadful echo, the terrors that distracted me. I say I knew it well.
I knew what the old man felt, and pitied him, although I chuckled at
heart. I knew that he had been lying awake ever since the first slight
noise, when he had turned in the bed. His fears had been ever since
growing upon him. He had been trying to fancy them causeless, but could
not. He had been saying to himself--“It is nothing but the wind in the
chimney--it is only a mouse crossing the floor,” or “It is merely a
cricket which has made a single chirp.” Yes, he had been trying to
comfort himself with these suppositions: but he had found all in vain.
All in vain; because Death, in approaching him had stalked with his
black shadow before him, and enveloped the victim. And it was the
mournful influence of the unperceived shadow that caused him to
feel--although he neither saw nor heard--to feel the presence of my head
within the room.

When I had waited a long time, very patiently, without hearing him lie
down, I resolved to open a little--a very, very little crevice in
the lantern. So I opened it--you cannot imagine how stealthily,
stealthily--until, at length a simple dim ray, like the thread of the
spider, shot from out the crevice and fell full upon the vulture eye.

It was open--wide, wide open--and I grew furious as I gazed upon it. I
saw it with perfect distinctness--all a dull blue, with a hideous
veil over it that chilled the very marrow in my bones; but I could see
nothing else of the old man’s face or person: for I had directed the ray
as if by instinct, precisely upon the damned spot.

And have I not told you that what you mistake for madness is but
over-acuteness of the sense?--now, I say, there came to my ears a low,
dull, quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I
knew that sound well, too. It was the beating of the old man’s heart. It
increased my fury, as the beating of a drum stimulates the soldier into
courage.

But even yet I refrained and kept still. I scarcely breathed. I held the
lantern motionless. I tried how steadily I could maintain the ray upon
the eve. Meantime the hellish tattoo of the heart increased. It grew
quicker and quicker, and louder and louder every instant. The old man’s
terror must have been extreme! It grew louder, I say, louder every
moment!--do you mark me well I have told you that I am nervous: so I am.
And now at the dead hour of the night, amid the dreadful silence of
that old house, so strange a noise as this excited me to uncontrollable
terror. Yet, for some minutes longer I refrained and stood still. But
the beating grew louder, louder! I thought the heart must burst. And now
a new anxiety seized me--the sound would be heard by a neighbour! The
old man’s hour had come! With a loud yell, I threw open the lantern
and leaped into the room. He shrieked once--once only. In an instant
I dragged him to the floor, and pulled the heavy bed over him. I then
smiled gaily, to find the deed so far done. But, for many minutes, the
heart beat on with a muffled sound. This, however, did not vex me; it
would not be heard through the wall. At length it ceased. The old man
was dead. I removed the bed and examined the corpse. Yes, he was stone,
stone dead. I placed my hand upon the heart and held it there many
minutes. There was no pulsation. He was stone dead. His eye would
trouble me no more.

If still you think me mad, you will think so no longer when I describe
the wise precautions I took for the concealment of the body. The night
waned, and I worked hastily, but in silence. First of all I dismembered
the corpse. I cut off the head and the arms and the legs.

I then took up three planks from the flooring of the chamber, and
deposited all between the scantlings. I then replaced the boards so
cleverly, so cunningly, that no human eye--not even his--could have
detected any thing wrong. There was nothing to wash out--no stain of any
kind--no blood-spot whatever. I had been too wary for that. A tub had
caught all--ha! ha!

When I had made an end of these labors, it was four o’clock--still dark
as midnight. As the bell sounded the hour, there came a knocking at the
street door. I went down to open it with a light heart,--for what had
I now to fear? There entered three men, who introduced themselves, with
perfect suavity, as officers of the police. A shriek had been heard by
a neighbour during the night; suspicion of foul play had been aroused;
information had been lodged at the police office, and they (the
officers) had been deputed to search the premises.

I smiled,--for what had I to fear? I bade the gentlemen welcome. The
shriek, I said, was my own in a dream. The old man, I mentioned, was
absent in the country. I took my visitors all over the house. I bade
them search--search well. I led them, at length, to his chamber. I
showed them his treasures, secure, undisturbed. In the enthusiasm of
my confidence, I brought chairs into the room, and desired them here
to rest from their fatigues, while I myself, in the wild audacity of
my perfect triumph, placed my own seat upon the very spot beneath which
reposed the corpse of the victim.

The officers were satisfied. My manner had convinced them. I was
singularly at ease. They sat, and while I answered cheerily, they
chatted of familiar things. But, ere long, I felt myself getting pale
and wished them gone. My head ached, and I fancied a ringing in my
ears: but still they sat and still chatted. The ringing became more
distinct:--It continued and became more distinct: I talked more
freely to get rid of the feeling: but it continued and gained
definiteness--until, at length, I found that the noise was not within my
ears.

No doubt I now grew _very_ pale;--but I talked more fluently, and with a
heightened voice. Yet the sound increased--and what could I do? It was
a low, dull, quick sound--much such a sound as a watch makes when
enveloped in cotton. I gasped for breath--and yet the officers heard
it not. I talked more quickly--more vehemently; but the noise steadily
increased. I arose and argued about trifles, in a high key and with
violent gesticulations; but the noise steadily increased. Why would
they not be gone? I paced the floor to and fro with heavy strides, as if
excited to fury by the observations of the men--but the noise steadily
increased. Oh God! what could I do? I foamed--I raved--I swore! I swung
the chair upon which I had been sitting, and grated it upon the
boards, but the noise arose over all and continually increased. It
grew louder--louder--louder! And still the men chatted pleasantly, and
smiled. Was it possible they heard not? Almighty God!--no, no! They
heard!--they suspected!--they knew!--they were making a mockery of my
horror!-this I thought, and this I think. But anything was better than
this agony! Anything was more tolerable than this derision! I could bear
those hypocritical smiles no longer! I felt that I must scream or die!
and now--again!--hark! louder! louder! louder! louder!

“Villains!” I shrieked, “dissemble no more! I admit the deed!--tear up
the planks! here, here!--It is the beating of his hideous heart!”

 


   

Majipoor Chronicles by Robert Silverberg – A Science Fiction Review

Previously I reviewed the first book of this series Lord Valentine’s Castle.  And since I liked that volume I went ahead and bought the other two volumes.  Majipoor Chronicles is constructed as a bridge between the first and third volumes and also serves to fill in as much of the backstory of Majipoor as it can.  One of the minor characters from the first book uses a machine that can record and replay the experiences of a person’s life so that another can virtually relive them as if it were his own life unfolding.  Using this plot device, we are served up a series of short stories varying between twenty and fifty pages in length.  Themes and characters vary.  Some are personal accounts of ordinary people living through the history of this planet.  All the primary characters are humans but the stories sometimes are primarily concerning human/non-human interaction.  Some of the stories involve characters who are major historical figures in the Majipoor world.  And some of the stories shed a light on the unusual place that dreams play in Majipoor life.  And finally, the last story is directly about the hero of the first book, Lord Valentine.

My first comment on the book is that it absolutely cannot be read with first reading Lord Valentine’s Castle.  Without first walking through Majipoor with Valentine on his journey of discovery I think the details and logic of Majipoor life would seem random and confusing.  Without some grounding in the structure of their ruling system and the relations between the sentient species some of the stories would be especially confusing.

The second thing that I want to discuss is the vintage of these books.  They were written at the end of the nineteen seventies and into the nineteen eighties.  During that period science fiction authors were heavily invested in introducing sex as a major component of their stories.  Silverberg was no exception.  So, in addition to normal sexual matters he highlights the oddity of the male protagonist who experiences these mind recordings experiencing sex from the point of view of one of his female subjects.  And in one story at an all woman’s school the fact that two of the women were in an intimate setting has one character wondering if it was an attempted sexual advance.  I think the character more or less says the “Seinfeldian” line, “not that there’s anything wrong with that.”  And later on, there is a sex scene involving a woman and two brothers.  Of course, by today’s standards these are extremely tame but at the time these were boundary testing.  The more bizarre sexual situation involves two human characters in separate stories that engage in sex with non-humans.  In fact, the really odd one has a young woman actually initiating sex with an unemotional, fairly uninterested but polite lizard man who the female character is nursing back to health from a leg injury.  This one was a bit much for me.  I have to admit that my tolerance human woman / lizard man sex is extremely limited.  So that facet of the stories is not entirely to my satisfaction.  As far as his description of normal male female sexuality I thought that was fairly done.  And of course, the adult nature of the books would exclude recommending them to very young people.

Putting aside this second point, which is restricted to a small part of the overall book, I enjoyed the writing and I found several of the stories very original.  Silverberg has a fertile imagination and writes his characters in an interesting and sympathetic manner.  I especially liked the stories that advanced the historical knowledge of Majipoor.  My favorite was the war story, “The Time of the Burning.”  It directly addresses the human colonization of Majipoor and the impact this had on the aboriginal population.  But overall I see Majipoor Chronicles as an interlude between Lord Valentine’s Castle and Valentine Pontifex, the third book of the series.  It’s merely a snack between the main courses.  If you’re reading the series then you must read it because there are a few plot points that would be missed with out it but overall it is more of a background enhancer for the Majipoor world building effort.  Now on to Valentine Pontifex!

 

Valentine Pontifex – Volume Three of the Majipoor Cycle by Robert Silverberg – A Science Fiction-Fantasy Book Review

Heinlein – What Was He?

I’m a Heinlein fan.  That’s not to say I like everything he wrote.  I believe “I Will Fear No Evil” is remarkably bad.  I know of several other of his books that I don’t think very highly of.  But a lot of what he wrote, especially during his heyday was very good.  And comparing him to those writing at the time when he came on the scene it is striking how much better he was.

So why was that?  What made him so good?  First of all, I think Heinlein happened to be a very intelligent man.  Secondly, he was well educated and this included the fact that he had an upper middle-class upbringing that included good literature.  Thirdly, he had a decent work ethic.  Between these things he probably brought much more to the table than most of his peers.  And finally, I think he modelled his stories not on other science fiction authors but rather on successful authors in the wider literary world.  And I think this has been recognized for a long time.  Many years ago, I read some literary criticism that posited that Heinlein had taken Kipling’s British Raj and mapped it onto the Solar System or some such thing.  Another critic said that Heinlein created America as Science Fiction.  While I don’t think either of these premises are completely true I think they hint at the fact that Heinlein wanted to take science fiction out of its ghetto and make it interesting to the grown-ups.

And to a great extent, he succeeded.  Especially in his early future history stories, the feel is very much of a mid-twentieth-century American dynamism.  It combines wit, enthusiasm and confidence.  It belongs with such other products of the time as John Houston’s motion pictures The Maltese Falcon and Treasure of the Sierra Madre.  He has turned the American Century into the source for his characters and their ethos.  And in some of his stories like Citizen of the Galaxy and Double Star, Heinlein did borrow some of the flavor of Kipling’s British Empire.

But really all this shows is that Heinlein wanted his stories to belong to the Anglo-American tradition of storytelling.  He recognized good work and he incorporated the spirit of the best works from his time and of the literary past that he enjoyed and projected them on the future.

Some might say that he thereby lacked originality.  This may be somewhat true.  But it is also universal.  Even James Joyce when he wrote his stream of consciousness in Ulysses is using Homer for his plot basis.  And to the extent that Ulysses is original it is also a failure as literature.  Every writer borrows from the past.  He has to.  As Solomon said, there is nothing new under the sun.  The trick is making it new and making it your own.  I think Heinlein was well within fair usage.

Coming back to the question of what Heinlein was, I believe he was the right man at the right time.  He was an intelligent, literate American at just the moment in the American Century when science fiction was becoming mainstream and relevant to the culture.  Atomic bombs and space craft were crossing over from science fiction to front page headlines.  Science fiction readers were seeing their stories become respectable and even literary.  Legitimate periodicals included some of the more refined writers between the glossy covers.

Will we see his like again?  I would have to say no.  Not so much because he was some towering genius, but because the times have changed.  No one would mistake our present culture for 1930s America.  Even in the depths of the Great Depression there was an optimism and solidarity that just doesn’t exist anymore.  Authors today reflect that despair.  And maybe that is interesting to some, a sort of decline of the Roman Empire sensibility, but I don’t think it lends itself to good storytelling.  Even in the most realistic story I think you need something beyond fatalism and ennui.  Otherwise it feels like the story is not even worth your time to read.

But, of course, maybe a change is just around the corner and an American renaissance is on the horizon.  Well, if that’s the case, I better reread Green Hills of Earth.  Delilah and the Space Riggers?  Sure why not?

22APR2018 – An OCF Update

I was thinking of putting up a comical post about Trump and the Republican Midterm Panic but I’m not feeling it.  The mainstream media is drum-beating the gloom and doom of a Blue Wave coming for the midterms.  I’m guessing they’re hoping for a self-fulfilling prophecy and knowing the gutless republicans I completely believe that they could be stampeded into almost anything, up to and including sex change surgery to try and sway liberal voters into their camp.  Let’s face it.  These GOP guys truly are hopeless.

But it’s boring and my readers deserve better.  I mean really, do you think Trump is that much better off with the Republicans in charge of the House?  Sure, the Senate is important because of the Supreme Court and the odds favor the Republicans holding on to their control.  But the House has been a joke.  Ryan might as well have been a pro-amnesty Democrat for all the help he gave.

The bigger story is what is happening between Trump, Sessions and his DOJ operatives.  Here the stories are just as crazy as the Blue Wave stuff but much more interesting.  The scenarios run the gamut from Trump gets indicted to Sessions is getting ready to round up the whole lot of the DOJ conspirators and get them to rat out Obama’s lieutenants.  Trying to figure out what actually will happen is virtually impossible.  But at least we can see developments happening in a relatively straightforward manner in the news.  So that is why I think the next [Trump vs …] gag will involve Comey being broken on the wheel and probably giving up his cable guy for installing free HBO.  Or maybe Andy McCabe doing an impression of Jimmy Cagney in White Heat, going on the lam and shooting it out with Library of Congress police over some overdue VCR tapes.

I guess the problem is that events although still pretty wild have sort of slowed down since porn actresses were popping up on network news shows a few weeks back.  I’ve become jaded.  Luckily Deadpool 2 will be released in the next few weeks.  I think the wise-cracking masked superhero will recharge my sense of humor and inspire me to plunge our larger than life commander in chief into some new absurd and hopefully funny crisis.

Meantime I’m busy testing out the Sony A7 III camera I just bought.  I’ll have a review on it soon.  One thing I will say is the autofocus is an order of magnitude better than the second generation A7 cameras and pretty close to the performance of the $4,500 A9.  My biggest problem is getting long lenses.  Sony only has a few and they cost an arm and a leg so I may get some Sigma Canon mount versions with an adapter.

And I just started using Capture One as a replacement for Lightroom.  I’ll do a post on my thoughts about switching.

I’ve got a ton of photos from my US Southwest trip that I’ll continue to dole out one a day.  Later I’ll put together some background info and travelogue type post or three.

Science fiction wise, I’m reading the second book of Robert Silverberg’s old Majipoor Series.  This volume is a collection of short stories tied together by a clever plot device.  After that I may read the next book in the Galaxy’s Edge series.

That post I put together on space opera has got me thinking about putting together some more theoretical, generic comments on science fiction, fantasy and fiction in general.  It seems to me the reason fiction is in the state it’s in is that people have sort of forgotten why people read.  Hint, it’s not to provide employment for would be “artists.”

And finally, I really do need to update the Directory of Right Wing Businesses.  I was hoping I’d get a lot more stuff from the readers but I guess I should make a good faith effort to do my part.  So, I will.

A big hello to the new readers from Captain Capitalism and Day by Day.  I’ve seen a lot of people looking at lots of content and return viewership is way up and that’s extremely gratifying.  If you want to sign up for the e-mail notifications you can.  And feel free to leave comments on the posts or the forums to give me feedback, suggestions or encouragement.  It is most appreciated.

And most especially a thanks to the loyal regulars who’ve been here since the beginning.  Have a good start to the week.

photog

A Few Thoughts About Space Opera

After finishing up my review of Galaxy’s Edge – Galactic Outlaws, it occurred to me that there was more to say about the category of Space Opera.  Some might say that I was a little unfair to social justice fiction fans.  After all there must be a significant audience of fans with blue hair and cats who really enjoy girl power super heroes and their adventures in space.  So, to say that these are automatically bad just because I heartily dislike them might seem arbitrary and unfair.  It might seem that way but it isn’t.  And that’s because I am the final arbiter of good and bad in science fiction.  I earned this coveted status by living long enough to see everything in the world.  So, once again, all Star Wars movies after Return of the Jedi (and even some parts of them before that point) are irredeemably bad and should be cast into the outer darkness where there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth.  And that lines us up for me to proclaim what does make a good space opera.  What follows is:

“photog’s RULE FOR WHAT MAKES GOOD SPACE OPERA” (patent pending).

It needs to appeal to the sense of wonder of the twelve-year-old boy in you.  Now mind you, it doesn’t have to only do that.  It can also be a brilliant philosophical treatise on the dualistic nature of the universe or a psychological study of the impact of technology on the human race, or even a deathless love story written across the stars of the galaxy.  But if it fails to inspire the twelve-year-old boy in you it’s not space opera.  It may be science fiction or anything else but it isn’t space opera.  And this isn’t even an exclusive precinct of science fiction.  Any adventure story has to satisfy that same basic requirement.  Take the literature of the late nineteenth century or early twentieth century.  A quintessential example that comes to mind is Treasure Island.  Here is a story that was tailor made for the sense of wonder of a twelve-year-old boy.  It has all the earmarks of the tale of wonder.  The boy who loses his father, the quest for riches, exotic locales, colorful and dangerous opponents, the revelation of secret knowledge, the coming of age experience of the world and the people in it.  An adventure story is a story for a boy that kindles his interest in the world around him.  It leads him to think there is more to life than school and chores.  It inspires him to strike out on his own and find his place in the world.

Now I can just hear the modern women and girly men screeching, “Girls want adventure too!”  To which I reply “Stop screeching, you’re hurting my ears.”  But also, I would say that what girls want is neither here nor there.  Boys need the adventure story because it fits their brains.  Girls have been told that they want adventure stories so they want them in order not to get left out in the modern #metoo world that they live in.  And in fact, I don’t really care if there are adventure stories for girls.  More power to them, I guess.  What I do mind is that for the sake of inclusiveness they are ruining all the adventure stories that are coming out of Hollywood.  And that is why I look for good old (and new) space opera and other adventure stories for my grandsons (and for me).

Galaxy’s Edge – Galactic Outlaws – A Science Fiction Book Review

Back in January I reviewed Legionnaire, the first volume in the Galaxy’s Edge series by Jason Anspach & Nick Cole.  That story was a straight up mil-sf story set in a future where the human race has spread into the galaxy and formed a “Republic” of worlds.  At the point in this Universe’s history that Legionnaire takes place, the Republic is beginning to devolve into an empire, ruled over by an elite that controls the rich central systems, with an underclass occupying the rest of the galaxy and the edge of the galaxy as an outlaw haven where even the powerful Legion can do little but skirmish with the rebels and pirates that abound out there.  By the end of that story it’s apparent that all the skill and valor of the remnant of faithful soldiers is being frittered away for political points by the bureaucrats that call the shots and wield the Legion as a bludgeon against the innocent inhabitants of the poorer sectors of the Republic.  As I said back in January, it is an engaging military tale.

So, what have Anspach and Cole done for an encore?  It appears that Legionnaire merely set the stage for the main event.  This is going to be a space opera of epic proportions.  And it’s easy to see what they intend to do is follow the space opera play book but dial it up to eleven.  And in doing so they are following in a long tradition.  Most recently, George Lucas mined that vein for all it would pay with his Star Wars franchise.  His rebels revolting against a republic that has turned into an evil empire is the latest iteration of a story that goes back to the actual Roman Empire and the tales of Brutus and Spartacus and Masada.

And when I say they’ve dialed it up to eleven I’m not kidding.  The text is full of little blatant references to dialog and images reflecting some scene from Star Wars or Firefly.  It was kind of fun finding them.  And whole characters are parodied.  There is a princess with the rebels named Leenah.  There is a plucky scoundrel in a freighter who rescues the princess.  There is a bot that guards a young damsel in distress.  The bot speaks with some combination of the diction of C3P0 and the Operative from Serenity.  You can literally hear the toff British accent.  And then to make sure you don’t miss any ingredients they are sometimes doubled.  So, there are two scoundrels with freighters helping damsels in distress.  There are two damsels in distress.  There are two bounty hunters.

And there’s even a cantina.  There are mob warlords with bounties on the plucky scoundrels.  There is something like a dark lord whose name is Goth Sullus.  So far there are no Jedi Knights but some of the characters seem to live forever so something’s going on there.

Suffice it to say that a lot of stuff is going on.  And by the end of the book you can see that this is just the beginning of the story.

And now, what do I think of all this?  Well, I have a theory about space opera.  I believe that space opera has the potential to be very good or very bad.  It entirely depends on the imaginative powers and writing skills of the author.  Take an E. E. Doc Smith or an Edgar Rice Burroughs and you get the Lensman stories or Barsoom, fun and excitement.  Take the likes of George Lucas and you end up with Jar Jar Binks or the latest Disney feminist trope with a light saber.

The good news is this is fun space opera.  None of the damsels in distress rescue the hero.  No one mentions race or gender studies terminology and the good guys aren’t ashamed of being good.  I’m pretty sure the authors have included the homages to Star Wars imagery to sort of point out that the story doesn’t have to be bad just because of the space opera tropes.  It just requires the story and characters to be interesting, likable and fun.  And in this case they are.  So if you like your space opera right up front without too much artistic restraint then I’d recommend Galactic Outlaws.

Lord Valentine’s Castle by Robert Silverberg – A Science Fiction & Fantasy Book Review

A while back TomD gave me an SF&F book recommendation. He said that Silverberg’s Majipoor series was a combination of science fiction and fantasy.  At the time I couldn’t think of anything I’d read that fell into that category.  Well, my brain is old so I’ll plead that because after thinking about it awhile I remembered that Zelazny’s Lord of Light had aspects that fit both mythology and science fiction.  So I sent away to Bezos’s megamonopoly and received the three volumes in the series.  And of course it was interesting to see that on the cover of the first book (Lord Valentine’s Castle) that Zelazny had provided a positive blurb.  He said it was a picaresque tale.  And as it turned out, he was exactly right.  I’ll cut to the chase with the verdict.  I liked the story.  Now you’ll get the ponderous literary review.

So how can it be both a fantasy and science fiction? The story takes place on a planet called Majipoor.  It was a world colonized by humans via space travel more than ten thousand years before the story unfolds.  So there’s the science fiction.  And the humans seemed to have also brought along a number of sentient species to live on Majipoor from other planets.  These various species and the humans interact as good neighbors, for the most part, in a civilization of twenty to thirty billion souls that comfortably fits on the giant world of Majipoor.  Now here comes the fantasy.  This world is ruled by four beings designated, the Coronal, the Pontifex, The Lady of the Isle of Sleep and the King of Dreams.  The first two of these individuals performed much as the Augustus and Caesar of the later Roman Empire did, being a senior and junior king appointed to rule a gigantic state.  But the second two, the Lady and the King intervened in Majipoor by sending dreams to the inhabitants.  It is this dream life that lends a fantasy element to the story.  And just to lend a fantasy aspect to the surroundings most of the technology is more or less of a pre-industrial vintage.  But there are exceptions.  Beasts of burden pull the carts and wagons of the inhabitants but the wagons are actually placed on anti-gravity modules.  So, whatever power provides anti-gravity doesn’t also produce forward locomotion.  Very odd.

So this is the background. The narrative follows a very engaging fellow named Valentine who ends up on a journey to discover his past and his destiny.  He meets many interesting and amusing characters and even learns an interesting skill, juggling.  It sounds odd and doesn’t seem to have anything to do with either science fiction or fantasy but it makes for an interesting and entertaining read.  And that is the definition of a picaresque story.

Silverberg has invested a substantial amount of effort building up the background and scenery of Majipoor. He has given us the canvas.  There are several other volumes in the series and I like it enough to continue on to the next volume.  But I want to clarify a couple of things.  This isn’t the Lord of the Rings.  There is no solemn morality play underlying Majipoor.  It is a sunny world where the good guy gets the girl and the crown and juggling and wine are their own reward.  Read it for the inventiveness and the story.  No profundity impinged on my reading but it was fun.  Recommended for folks who like their fiction fun.

Back to the Future (Make That Back to Heinlein’s Future History)

Back in the nineteen-forties and –fifties Robert A Heinlein was writing his “Future History” stories about the time period that currently is the recent past. And on his very impressive chart somewhere between the beginning of space flight and the beginning of a theocratic dictatorship in the United States was a period around the nineteen sixties that he called the “Crazy Years.”  You get a flavor for what he meant in a story called “The Year of the Jackpot.”  In this story social mores were unravelling.  Women would spontaneously strip naked in public without knowing why they were doing it and transvestite men and women would challenge the authorities with prosecution for daring to notice that they were queer.  Whether Heinlein was truly prescient or whether he just detected the beginnings of the curve and extrapolated it to its outlandish extreme is unknown to me.  But obviously he was being cautious.  No kidding, the current events that greet each of us as we survey the contents of our daily purveyor of fake news is well beyond what would have passed for science fiction or parody a few decades ago.  States are suing the federal government to prevent it from ascertaining if a census form is being filled out by an illegal alien.  A “woman” who used to be a man is marrying “man” who used to be a woman and we are supposed to believe that somehow now a man will be giving birth to the child.  A porn actor is suing the President’s lawyer for defamation of character.  Does a porn actor even have a character that can be defamed?  We’ve been laughing at these insanities for decades but none of it has gone away or even slowed the march to the brink of insanity.  Heinlein’s theocratic dictatorship is looking less and less like a nightmare scenario and more and more like a really good idea.  I’m really starting to wonder how much worse Sharia Law would be than the current politically correct straight jacket we currently endure.  At least under it there are easily recognizable roles for the traditional individuals most of us remember as normal.

 

Heinlein later in his career wrote a sort of spy novel with a female replicant heroine called “Friday.” In that universe the United States and Canada had balkanized into a number of smaller states.  Some of the states mentioned are Brit-Can, Quebec, the Alaska Free State, the California Confederacy, the Republic of Texas, the Vegas Free State and the Chicago Imperium.  This later novel is significantly less optimistic than his earlier works.  I definitely don’t claim that Robert Heinlein was particularly more skilled as a prognosticator than any other seers around but I begin to see a rationale for separating from behavior that keeps trending not only farther and farther from normalcy but even begins closing in on suicidal.  I still hope that the path forward is the majority of Americans rejecting the progressivist nightmare that is currently unfolding and at the least restore the conditions needed to allow a functional society.  But I have to admit I’m starting to worry that the Alt-Right may not be just making up their apocalypse.  I better get my passport stamped for the Republic of Texas, or should that be the Vegas Free State?

23MAR2018 – OCF Update

Well, I’m back in the saddle at work again and catching up here on the site.  I’m halfway through Robert Silverberg’s Lord Valentine’s Castle (hat tip to Tom) and should have the review soon.  And based on the story so far, I think I’ll read the other two books at some point.  I have some movie and tv reviews coming up very soon.  I’ve got over a thousand photos from the Southwest to edit and rate so I should have a few photo posts coming up soon.  The political situation is like some kind of crazy kaleidoscopic nightmare.  It sounds like Ray Bradbury’s formula for his stories, “The trip—exactly one-half exhilaration, exactly one-half terror.”  And now we know just how many women are willing to admit to having sex with Donald Trump.  I guess he was right about them letting him grab them.  But they do seem to have been paid for the experience.  Trump truly believes in capitalism.  Well at least he wasn’t attacking them like Slick Willie.  Either way things seem to be going well.  The Republicans are afraid of losing the House, blah, blah, blah.  Well they are pretty lame so anything is possible.  But they really should embrace populism and try to show some backbone.  It is the smart move.  I still have to read some of the political columns I missed but whether there is something important to share remains to be seen.  From my point of view Trump needs to clean the stables and drain the swamp.  Then he can move onto policy.  And he needs to punish the sanctuary cities and send the illegals home.  And finally, Justice Kennedy, go away, now!

Interregnum

As threatened, I will be away until next Thursday (22MAR) and will have limited (if any) opportunity to post.  But don’t despair.  I will be gathering excellent photographic material and revitalizing my flagging wit.  I hope that in my absence there will be no Trump related nuclear exchanges or Mueller presidential indictments or any other earthshaking events.  Feel free to leave comments on this post to provide me with any topics or things that you think warrant attention.  Or just to say hello.

I shall return!

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